Thanks to developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) a Queensland-based company, List Premier, is launching ZenoBot, a virtual assistant designed to help teachers to deliver content in the classroom and engage with their students.
ZenoBot is the brainchild of Dr Johann DeBeer, an education professor and CEO and founder of List Premier.
DeBeer initially trained as a teacher, and became a lecturer at a teacher training college in South Africa by the age of 23.
He has since gone on to complete postgraduate study in educational philosophy and before moving to Australia worked with the department of education in South Africa on programs for gifted and talented children.
With his background in teaching, DeBeer stresses ZenoBot is not designed to ever take the place of a human teacher.
“My focus has always been on quality education ... there should be a teacher in the room,” he says.
“What we have is not a robot in a classroom, I don’t believe in that.” Instead, the device is designed to work in partnership with the classroom teacher.
“We want ZenoBot to be used in all schools where the focus should be on the ZenoBot being utilised as a support teacher, helping teachers to deliver content while they spend more time directly with students,” DeBeer says.
“ZenoBot helps the teacher to present and transfer information over to the students.
“Via the ZenoBot avatar, the teacher is freed up and can focus more closely on the needs of the students.”
According to DeBeer, the Zeno- Bot can talk to students, ask questions, show videos, and with the use of AI, children can also ask questions and the avatar will give an answer in a complete sentence.
He says the avatar can even pull funny facial expressions or use hand gestures to engage the class.
This technology was developed, partly in response to DeBeer’s concerns around tablet use in the classroom.
“I started to realise things we’re moving in the wrong direction with apps and tablets in schools,” he says.
“Tablet use was originally introduced to streamline classes and ease pressure on educators, but my concern is that tablets limit social engagement and they also leave students more open to distraction.
“We have found that the use of ZenoBot on an interactive touch board is much more effective as it provides one focal point for the class and the students are encouraged to socialise, make eye contact and interact with each other.
“This provides better control for the teacher and more opportunities to focus on students’ needs.”